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The importance of the black power salute in the 1968 olympics

The Black Power salute

Black Power was thrust onto the agenda as Tommie Smith and John Carlos showed a quiet dignity while nevertheless sending out a clear message that needed hearing. The world certainly took notice as it became front-page news around the globe and raised awareness for the cause - although it also raised a substantial backlash back in the United States.

Smith, the gold medallist, and third-placed Carlos, stood on the podium and each raised a hand enveloped in a black glove with their heads bowed as the 'Star Spangled Banner' played over the tannoy in Mexico. Smith was happy to explain his actions afterwards, complaining: But if I did something bad, then they would say 'a Negro'.

The Black Power Salute That Rocked the 1968 Olympics

We are black and we are proud of being black. He wore a black scarf to represent black pride and black socks with no shoes to signify poverty for those back home in the States. Carlos' right fist recognised black unity; Smith's black power. Beads were worn to apparently highlight the lynchings that were still taking place across the country.

This was a choreographed moment, discussed in the hours before the ceremony and instigated by the militant black student group the sprint duo belonged to which was, refreshingly, supported by some white colleagues as well.

  • They were ostracized from the athletic community;
  • He intends to donate a few artifacts to the USOC, as well;
  • In the photograph, two figures in navy blue track jackets stand atop a podium with their heads down and fists raised;
  • But neither man ever apologized for his raised fist or his bowed head—and neither ever had need to.

The jeers from the crowd were the least of the pair's worries. Smith openly feared an assassination attempt, conceding: A body called the Olympic Project for Human Rights, helped set up by Carlos, had promoted a boycott for all African-American athletes in 1968. A lot of athletes thought that winning medals would supercede or protect them from racism. But, even if you won the medal, it ain't going to save your momma.

1968 salute leaves lasting impact on social activism in Olympic Movement

I called it [a] cry for freedom" - Tommie Smith "I'm not saying they didn't have the right to follow their dreams but, to me, the medal was nothing but the carrot on a stick.

His single symbolic gesture afterwards said more than his remarkable on-track feats ever could. The pair may have been expelled from the Olympic village and ordered to leave Mexico City but the statement had been made.

Political issues had been raised at the Olympic Games, "violating this universally accepted principle" according to the IOC.

Carlos was rightly unrepentant. Both men faced death threats on their return to the States and it was some time before they were properly acclaimed for their part in raising the issue of racial equality. Smith played American football for the Cincinnati Bengals between 1969 and 1971 while Carlos represented the Philadelphia Eagles.

In 2005, a bronze statue of the duo was built at San Jose State University. Communication error please reload the page.